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Indigent Domestic Violence Litigants Do Not Have a Right to Counsel on the State's Dime

In the recent case of K.M. v. D.M., the Appellate Division held that neither indigent defendants nor indigent plaintiff-victims are entitled to appointed counsel in domestic violence actions. The Court found that entering a domestic violence Final Restraining Order does not result in a "consequence of sufficient magnitude" that would require mandatory appointment of counsel.

Unlike the Criminal Code, The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act is designed to remediate behavior. If the Court finds that an act of domestic violence has been committed, the Act does not impose incarceration. The purpose of the Act is to prevent the victim from future domestic violence. Essentially, the right to appointed counsel only exists in civil matters if personal freedoms are at stake. See Lassiter v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 452 U.S. 18, 25, 101 S. Ct. 2153, 2158, 68 L. Ed. 2d 640, 648 (1981).

It should be noted however that an indigent defendant is entitled to appointed counsel in cases involving contempt of a domestic violence Order when incarceration is a possible consequence. State v. Ashford, 374 N.J. Super. 332, 337 (App. Div. 2004).

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